Her First Moments

First posted: 1997

Three bombs have gone off in the center of Jerusalem – ambulances are rushing to the scene. The pictures slowly appear on the television. The soldiers try to stop a man from running into the scene but he has a desperate look on his face. He shouts at them and runs past. A woman carrying a crying baby is helped into an ambulance. Everywhere there is chaos. People are running and shouting. Thirty-one are wounded. There are dead, but we don’t know how many, says the newscaster.

 My daughter is sitting and watching the pictures. It is the first time I have let her watch something like this. In a few weeks, she will celebrate her bat mitzvah. A woman according to Jewish law, a child still in my heart. She is crying as she sees the scenes and listens to the news. I understand most of the Hebrew, but she translates anyway. She says that people can call to find out more information, “Do we know anyone there?” she asks.

There are now eighty, but the number will go higher. Six are killed, but three are the terrorists, she explains. “They killed themselves, what do they care?” she says almost to herself.

“I just close my eyes when I see something bad,” she says when I ask if she is sure that she wants to stay. The pictures are not kind. There is no time to edit, no time to think. Later perhaps they will edit out some of the scenes she is seeing now.

The experts say that we should not force them to watch the news at times like this. Rather, we should let them set the pace. The psychiatrists say that if they ask to see the pictures, we should not forbid them. The imagination, they explain, creates images of its own and those images could be even worse than the reality. It is hard for me to believe that is true.

Sit with them, we are urged, and so I sit here watching her watch the pictures, wondering what does she think, how does her mind deal with this? One hundred and five have arrived at the hospitals. “If you want, you can change to the English channel, because I understand,” she offers. But I don’t understand, I want to tell her, and it isn’t a question of language.

“What’s sad is that I remember being there.” She begins to cry again and my heart breaks a little more. “A lot of people probably got hurt from getting scared.” She sees people lifting others. “It’s really nice that people are helping. Isn’t it?” She is trying to comfort me, when did she grow to be so strong, so concerned with others?

“I don’t think I want to be a doctor,” she tells me now as she watches the camera focus on the blood spots on the ground. “Maybe I should be a teacher.” She returns her attention to the television. “They keep showing the same pictures.” She wants to know what is happening now. “So many,” she whispers to herself.

Now she sits quietly and I find that I am bothered more by the silence. She is trying to understand and yet what I cannot tell her is that there are things beyond understanding.

Without saying anything, she gets up and leaves the room. I hear her turn on the computer and the music from one of the games begins. I have seen this before. When her grandfather was dying, we knew he would want to see her. It was important to do this for him. She cried when she saw him and when we left she began asking questions.

Suddenly she turned and asked about something on the side of the road. I was surprised, perhaps even a little upset. But a warning nod from my brother-in-law, a doctor, stopped me from commenting.

This is how children deal with great tragedies, he later explained. Little parcels of information taken in and absorbed. Later more questions, but their innate defense system usually protects them. They cannot absorb any more pain right now, and so they don’t. I hear the keyboard pounding frantically. She has absorbed all the pain she can right now. How do I explain that I too have absorbed all I can?

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